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New things
Technology, science, engineering

26 JULY 2021

Olympic audience
The Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday received the lowest audience for an Olympics opening ceremony in over three decades, Reuters reported. About 17 million people watched the event on broadcast and streaming media, compared with 26.5 million for the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016 and 27.8 million for the Pyeongchang winter games in 2018. One explanation is that watching the ceremony without fans in the stands may not be as compelling. Fewer than 1,000 attendees were present under strict social distancing rules. But viewing numbers for Olympic opening ceremonies have been in decline for years. Does that have a knock on effect on ratings for the actual sports? We shall see, but for fans of diving and Daley his triumph with Matty Lee on the 10m board this morning transcends numbers. The backstory is extraordinary. Remember, Daley’s quest for a gold medal started when he was 13, touring the world with a lucky monkey. 

23 july 2021

Empty shelves
Some of Britain’s supermarkets and wholesalers are struggling to keep shelves stocked because of the hundreds of thousands people pinged and told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app. Supply chains are failing mainly because of shortages of lorry drivers and meat-processing staff: Sainsbury’s says it may not be able to meet demand for salads, BBQ-friendly meat and some beers and soft drinks. Brexit isn’t helping businesses plug staffing gaps. What to do? Step one is to make key personnel ping-immune. Up to 10,000 food depot and manufacturing workers are expected to be allowed to ignore pings if they test negatively each day. Step two may be to issue more work permits to overseas HGV drivers. No other country appears to be enduring a pingdemic. 

22 july 2021

Don’t hesitate
There’s been a lot of speculation about how TikTok, the wildly popular video-sharing social network from China, is able to make such relevant and accurate content recommendations to its users. Some wonder whether the app is secretly listening to their conversations. It turns out the answer is a lot more interesting. The Wall Street Journal ($) created dozens of automated accounts that watched hundreds of thousands of videos to find that TikTok only needs one piece of information on users to understand what they want: the length of time they linger over a video. By tracking each second a user hesitates over watching a video, the app sees their deepest desires.

21 juLY 2021

REvil goes dark

Fly high
Vladimir Putin, who has a fetish for military tech, has inspected a new Russian jet fighter called the Checkmate that is a) intended as a rival to the American F-35 and b) supposed to be able to fly without a pilot. At $25 million per plane it is a quarter the price of an F-35… but a very expensive drone

Separately, Jeff Bezos went to space and back yesterday in 11 minutes in his Blue Origin rocket. We’re glad to report that he and his fellow passengers, including the 82-year-old Wally Funk, returned safely. But as a space flight it was dull. The vertical landing thing is cool but old hat now. Putting aside for a moment the ethics of being a billionaire space cowboy, Richard Branson’s flight last week won hands down on innovation, style, price and getting there first. 4-0. 

20 JULY 2021

Rahul Gandhi is a leading member of India’s opposition. Cecilio Pineda Birto was a well-known Mexican journalist, murdered in 2017. Hatice Cengiz was engaged to marry Jamal Khashoggi before his murder by a Saudi hit squad. They and about 50,000 others are on a leaked list of notables said to be of interest to clients of NSO, the Israeli software firm whose Pegasus bug can make your smartphone spy on you. That Pegasus can activate your phone’s microphone and camera to record you without you knowing is not new. But the scale of alleged misuse of the software by countries with appalling human rights records is. Those countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Morocco and the UAE. NSO denies any wrongdoing. Behind the scenes it must be wondering, as others are, what happened to the business model that thrives on not having to be accountable for what customers do with your products.